Mahbubani on “What is governance?”

Jentrified Citizen – Read what Kishore Mahnubani has to say about democracy vis-a-vis governance. He lauds and holds China as a fine example of “good governance” without democracy, and he continues to put down the “Western minds” which he believes cannot think beyond “black and white”.

First he gushes over how China has shown it is possible to have good governance without democracy. Disturbingly, his idea of good governance appears to exclude caring for the human soul (well-being) and human rights as he speaks largely of the wealth of capital and knowledge. It is also troubling that he thinks governance can be great and ethical when the decisions are made by an absolute power without checks and balances. In his commentary, Kishore also proceeds to contradict himself by adding post-script almost, lest he sounds undemocratic, that he thinks “democracy is a desirable goal”.

Generalisations and contradictions abound in his writings. As The Economist once said in a review of a book he wrote…Kishore “makes argument by non sequitur” and his arguments are sloppy and disparate. Indeed, some of his key points in this commentary are not substantiated but steeped in unsubtle prejudices.

Why am I even blogging about him? Because he is supposedly an intellectual and is the Dean of LKY School of Public Policy at NUS. And because he now has a weekly column (entire page) in the Straits Times to try and persuade Singaporeans to see things the way of the great white spinners. He would be a dangerous writer if his reasoning weren’t so flawed and inelegant.

PS: Watch him speak in a TV interview with BBC Hardtalk …and check out that helmet hairdo ala President Tony Tan! It’s uncanny how both men share some similarities in their pompous speaking style in addition to the backcomb.


kishore-mahbubaniKishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, responds to Francis Fukuyama’s “What is governance?”:

Francis Fukuyama has done the West an enormous favor with his essay on “What is governance?” He is subtly introducing a distinction between democracy and good governance, a distinction which is almost inconceivable in Western minds.

To put it bluntly, democracy is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for good governance. And, yes, it is possible to have good governance without democracy. Anyone who doubts this should look at the record of China’s government over the past thirty years. It is not perfect but it has lifted more people out of poverty, educated more people, increased their lifespans and generated the world’s largest middle class. No other society in human history has improved human welfare as much as the Chinese government. It would be…

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6 Responses to Mahbubani on “What is governance?”

  1. Angry Citizen says:

    What can we expect? More of the same groupthink from HMV (His Master’s Voice) with the typical patronizing and condescending tone that is so typical of people related to government, its departments and agencies and the “friendly” media. They take us ordinary citizens to be fools. Fortunately we are not.

  2. dotseng says:

    Good Afternoon all,

    A simple question. How do you determine the nett value of an intellectual to society? Well there are really so many ways to do so – but one reliable method is to divide the number of years an intellectual has lived and to see how many of his schools of thoughts and states of mind once promulgated by him have changed society to make a better tomorrow for most natives. In the case of – well let us say even he makes my door stopper look like a F1 racing car – as he can’t seem no matter how hard he tries to shake off the PAP apologist tag – I wonder why?

    Maybe it is time for REAL and non- partisan intellectuals to step in, if we are really serious about building a great nation. One thing is for sure with the likes of Mahbubani. They definitely can’t do worse.

    Good Day

    Darkness 2013

    Darkness 2012

    • There is technically nothing wrong if one chooses to be a defender of PAP. What I take issue with is with the fallacious arguments that lack substance. One shouldn’t be an apologist or argue for argument sake. At least have some backbone and make valid points.

  3. Pingback: Daily SG: 16 Apr 2013 | The Singapore Daily

  4. eremarf says:

    Nice expose Jen. Much appreciated. 🙂 (I wouldn’t have thought highly of anyone who takes Francis Fukuyama seriously anyway.)

    Incidentally, this issue of “democracy” has been looming very large in my thoughts in recent times. I keep encountering stuff like Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, Christopher Hayes’ Twilight of the Elites, a series of posts on The Archdruid Report, etc, which discuss the implications of a lack of democracy (maybe elsewhere too, perhaps Stiglitz on development economics). It seems that a deficit in democracy is actually a requirement for implementing policies bad for the people. (Well, I wouldn’t rule out that a benevolent dictator could exercise good (or at least decent) governance – but for bad governance to occur, you seem to need to suspend democracy.)

    And democracy isn’t just having citizens voting every few years – Myanmar and Singapore can do that, and nobody says they or we are democratic. Democracy is when people actually exert influence over policies, by whatever methods and means – and sometimes you don’t have a democracy just because people aren’t INTERESTED in policies (aren’t equipped with appropriate cultural attitudes or mental abilities) – they just surrender control to others.

    • Thanks for contributing to the discussion. Agree with you that democracy is not just about have the right to vote. Even then, many of us here have been deprived of our voting rights through blatant gerrmandering for a long time. Just look at the folks in the ever expanding Tanjong Pagar GRC, they have not voted for more than 30 years!

      As to Kishore’s pt lauding good governance without democracy, it is so flawed. How does one ensure there is good And ethical governance when it is an absolute power making all the decisions? There are no checks and balances. It is troubling that a so called intellectual and academic like him would actually endorse governance without democracy as being good and praiseworthy.

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